By Keith Westman

The field of education technology has grown considerably in recent years, both with new companies launching and with existing tech corporations (like Google) focusing on education initiatives. At a high level, it’s undoubtedly a good thing to have more people and resources dedicated to such an important part of our society. However, we’re now seeing the edtech market become oversaturated, and it’s actually harming education in some ways.

Simply put, there is too much focus on new technology. Schools have all this new technology, but they don’t know how to use it. Teachers receive all these shiny new tools, and they have to use them because the school has spent money on them. Without a plan in place for how these tools will actually improve student learning, this technology is often used simply for the sake of being used.

Worse yet, there is no interoperability between these different tech tools — the data is living in silos and it’s not being utilized to form a complete picture of student achievement, much less make informed decisions about students. It takes a monumental effort to use all of these tools properly and in conjunction with each other. Teachers find themselves drowning in technology that was meant to make their lives easier, and that leads to worse outcomes for everyone.

This may sound counterintuitive coming from someone who works at an edtech company, but it’s a truth we’ve had to reconcile with. We know tech isn’t the most important factor in changing education for the better: the best edtech tool is an empowered teacher.

So, how can edtech be used to empower teachers, rather than overwhelm them? Here are three keys that we prioritize at my company, Otus:

Interoperability. I’ve already mentioned this as an issue — teachers already have too many tools to try to keep track of, and if these tools don’t talk to each other, it becomes almost impossible to keep track of data. Effective edtech should give teachers one less thing to keep track of, not one more. By bringing separate edtech tools together into one solution, we can make things easier for teachers, saving them time and effort that can be better spent on their students.

Streamlined communication. It’s not just edtech tools that teachers have to keep track of — it’s people as well. At various times throughout their days, teachers have to interact with their school’s administrators, their students, and their students’ parents. What if teachers could communicate with all of those parties through the same platform? Better yet, what if that platform housed information that could answer many potential questions before they even needed to be asked? It all comes back to easing the burden on teachers and giving them tools that simplify things, rather than complicate them.

Effective data use. People are wary of data these days, and for good reason. There are too many stories in the news about misuse of personal data, and we have to be extra careful with children. But not all data is bad — the right kind of data can empower teachers to make meaningful decisions about what is best for their students, thereby allowing them to teach to their students’ strengths. Most edtech tools these days collect some sort of data — by combining this data and making it simple to analyze, we can enable teachers to see a full picture of their students, and adapt accordingly.

These three ideas sound simple, and they are. But in simplifying a crowded edtech field, we get back to the true purpose of educational technology: edtech is not meant to teach students itself, but to enable teachers to better teach students.

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Keith Westman, Ed.D., is the Chief Operating Officer at Otus, a technology platform for K-12 classrooms, schools, and districts. Connect with him on Twitter: @KeithWestman


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